Can Jeffrey Immelt retool GE?

April 21, 2015 3:22 PM

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Early in his career at General Electric, in 1989, Jeffrey Immelt drew the short straw. Famed CEO Jack Welch dispatched him to Louisville, Kentucky, to stop the bleeding at GE's appliance division — in the midst of a massive recall of defective refrigerator compressors. "It was like being sent to the far side of the moon," Immelt told biographer David Magee. In the stress of the assignment, the 6-foot-4 former college football player gorged on junk food and packed on more than 60 pounds. He restored the division to profitability, and later shed the weight, but as for GE under Welch? It kept bulking up in a nonstop acquisition spree.

When Immelt took over as CEO from Welch a dozen years later, GE was a sprawling conglomerate of unrelated businesses — NBC, consumer finance, light bulbs and even jet engines all under one roof. But it was also an amazingly predictable quarterly earnings machine. Investors adored Welch, and bid up t...

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